"Prejudice against single pastors abounds"

Here’s a surprising problem that Catholic pastors don’t confront, from a piece in the New York Times:

Like all too many Americans, Mark Almlie was laid off in the spring of 2009 when his workplace downsized. He has been searching for an appropriate position ever since, replying to more than 500 job postings without success.

But Mr. Almlie, despite a sterling education and years of experience, has faced an obstacle that does not exist in most professions: He is a single pastor, in a field where those doing the hiring overwhelmingly prefer married people and, especially, married men with children.

Mr. Almlie, 37, has been shocked, he says, at what he calls unfair discrimination, based mainly on irrational fears: that a single pastor cannot counsel a mostly married flock, that he might sow turmoil by flirting with a church member, or that he might be gay. If the job search is hard for single men, it is doubly so for single women who train for the ministry, in part because many evangelical denominations explicitly require a man to lead the congregation.

Mr. Almlie, an ordained evangelical minister who lives in Petaluma, Calif., has also had to contend with the argument, which he disputes with scriptural citations of his own, that the Bible calls for married leaders. “Prejudice against single pastors abounds,” Mr. Almlie wrote in articles he posted on a popular Christian blog site in January and February, setting off a wide-ranging debate online on a topic that many said has been largely ignored.

Some evangelical churches, in particular, openly exclude single candidates; a recent posting for a pastor by a church on Long Island said it was seeking “a family man whose family will be involved in the ministry life of the church.” Other churches convey the message through code words, like “seeking a Biblical man” (translation: a husband and a provider).

“I’ll get an e-mail saying ‘wonderful résumé,’ ” Mr. Almlie said in an interview. “Once I say I’m single, never married, I never hear back.”

Federal anti-discrimination law specifically exempts religious groups when they hire a person for religion-related activities, and courts have been loath to interfere in ministerial employment, said David Middlebrook, a lawyer and a specialist in religion law in Dallas and Fort Worth.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said it was unfair to accuse churches of discrimination because that word implied something “wrongful.”

“Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he said, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.”

Mr. Mohler said he tells the students at his seminary that “if they remain single, they need to understand that there’s going to be a significant limitation on their ability to serve as a pastor.”

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Comments

  1. Max Lindenman says:

    There are dozens and dozens of good arguments for and against mandatory clerical celibacy, but here’s a case for you might not have heard.

    For a time, a couple of years ago, I was in a financial tailspin. It should go without saying that my love life down right along with it. If my pastor had been a married man, living a perfect lmiddle-class life, I think I would have had a hard time relating to him. I would have felt self-conscious, like a creature who ought not exist in his unievrse.

    As it happened, my pastor was a Dominican friar, who’d taken a vow of poverty, along with his vows of chastity and celibacy. Knowing that he, too, was living on the edge made me feel closer to him, and by extension, to the Church as a whole. The Church, and especially my parish, served me as a beacon in those very trying times.

    Now, this sounds terribly selfish. (“Frag nab it, if I’m lonely and poor, everybody should be!”) I’ve since come to learn that many married pastors live pretty close to the edge themselves — I’ve become good friends with an Episcopal priest and his wife, who have been trying desperately to short-sell their home. A converted Episcopalian — who, judging by the size of his family, was using the rhythym method on a strictly voluntary basis — has become one of my favorite homilists.

    Even so, identification with those on the margins is one of the charisms of the mendicant orders, isn’t it? It was the house St. Francis strove to rebuild. And he saw no better way to do it than by living the life himself.

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